MULUNGUSHI University says 20 per cent of the students at the institution were not allowed to write the December 2019 exams due to failure to pay at least 80 per cent of their tuition fees.

And Pondo says it has been difficult for the institution to implement Higher Education Minister Dr Brian Mushimba’s directive that public universities should allow owing students to write exams because the grant from government can’t cover salaries for workers.

In an interview, Mulungushi University corporate affairs officer James Pondo said the University did not want to suffer the same fate as UNZA with a huge indebtedness, which could lead to a premature closure.

“I think 20 per cent or so didn’t write exams (last year). And the turn-out for this semester, there is a huge reduction. From post-graduate students, we expected 500 plus students and we only got around 196 students. For under-graduates, we expected about 1,600 and we only got 600 students. So, we don’t know what will happen to the full-time students,” Pondo said.

And Pondo said the University had not been able to allow owing students to sit for exams because 90 per cent of its operations were financed by funds collected as tuition fees from students.

“The reason why the University is not implementing what the Minister said is because our financing model is different. As Mulungushi University, we finance almost 90 per cent of the operations of the University and the government is just supplementing a little. We depend on students’ fees to survive. So, if we allow everyone to write exams, including those that haven’t paid anything, it means the University will close! People will have no salaries; there will be no operations at the university. Yes, we are not profit-making, but we should operate at break-even so that we keep the University afloat and pay people’s salaries on time; we pay the gratuities or whatever pensions on time, we pay suppliers on time. So, that is the reason we always ensure that people pay,” Pondo explained.

“And, of course, before you joined the University, you were told that this is a self-financing institution and you will be paying for your tuition. And people signed to say, ‘okay, I accept.’ I don’t know why it becomes a problem when it’s towards the exams. The students are not being sincere. And again, management is not like cast in stone and its decisions are not cast in the stone. At times, when we engage management in advance to say, ‘I think where I am going, I might not be able to meet the 80 per cent.’ You write to management and they will accept because you are focused. But not to come and hold management to ransom in a group and start saying that, ‘they have barred us from writing exams,’ when you knew.”

He added that the grant Mulungushi received from government was insufficient to pay workers’ salaries.

“The grant (that we get from government) is very little. It cannot even meet one-month salaries. If we just allow everyone to be writing exams even without paying anything, the lecturers will have no salaries and like UNZA, they will be protesting all the time! If there is no money to run the University, it will close! The workers will run away and will be saying, ‘pa Mulungushi tabafolesha’ (at Mulungushi they don’t pay),” said Pondo.